What is Fire Cupping Therapy?

What is Fire Cupping Therapy?
Posted on 09/16/2020
What is Fire Cupping Therapy?

Katie Green BA, LAT, ATC
Head Athletic Trainer at SkyView Academy


Fire cupping is an ancient therapy technique that originated in the Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. As seen in the popular movie The Karate Kid, the character Miyagi used fire cupping to help heal the injuries that the student, Dre, sustained while training and fighting. Fire cupping is a great tool that we still use in the present day to relieve sore muscles, muscle spasms, muscle tension, provide pain relief, encourage blood flow, encourage the lymphatic system to promote healing and improve flexibility and range of motion. As an Athletic Trainer, I have found great success using fire cupping as an effective treatment for specific sport-related injuries.

The way I think of fire cupping is that it is like a reverse massage. Instead of pushing into the skin to massage an area with your hand, it suctions the skin and pulls from the muscle fascia that surrounds the muscle. In doing so, the skin will turn a little red or purple, but this is nothing to be alarmed about.

Fire cupping aims to assist with the lymphatic system in doing its job to rid the body of toxins produced when an injury occurs. When you have an injury or pain in a certain area, the body can heal itself by bringing in healthy blood cells. Fire cupping is intended to bring healthy blood cells to the injury faster to help rid the area of these toxins the body creates that hinder the healing.

In the process of fire cupping, the examiner places a flame inside of a small glass cup. This cup is then placed quickly onto the skin and is only placed on muscular areas. When a glass cup is placed onto the skin with the heat and moisture from the fire inside, it creates a vacuum to the skin. The skin inside of the cup will get red and maybe purple and will leave some bruising after the treatment. The more toxins that are present in the area, the more purple the bruising will be. This is all normal because fire cupping encourages healthy blood flow to the area, thus helping the body heal itself and get rid of the toxins. The bruising may take up to a week to disappear, so fire cupping should only be used once a week in one area.

I studied fire cupping when I was in college, obtaining my bachelor's degree in athletic training, and I use my technique on my family members when they are experiencing back pain, neck pain, and muscle cramping. At a young age, my sister had a vertebral spinal fusion after fracturing three of her vertebrae. Now she has two nine-inch steel rods attached to her spine. She loves when I use fire cupping to help relieve her muscle spasms and tightness she has in her lower back.

Fire cupping is an effective treatment to relieve sore muscles, muscle spasms, muscle tension, provide pain relief, encourage blood flow, encourage the lymphatic system to promote healing and improve flexibility and range of motion. Although there will be some bruising after the treatment, I myself have experienced great results from fire cupping therapy, and you could too!


Resources:

Cao H, Hu H, Colagiuri B, Liu J. Medicinal cupping therapy in 30 patients with fibromyalgia: A case series observation. Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006). 2011;18(3):122-126.

Cao H, Li X, Liu J (2012) An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31793. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031793

Kamen Mark, Robert. Zwart, Harald. (2010). “The Karate Kid.”

Markowski A, Sanford S, Pikowski J, Fauvell D, Cimino D, Caplan S. A pilot study analyzing the effects of chinese cupping as an adjunct treatment for patients with subacute low back pain on relieving pain, improving range of motion, and improving function. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(2):113-117.
Huber R, Emerich M, Braeunig M. Cupping - is it reproducible? experiments about factors determining the vacuum. Complement Ther Med. 2011;19(2):78-83.

Qi-ling Y, Tuan-mao G, Liang L, Fu S, Yin-gang Z. Traditional Chinese medicine for neck pain and low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Plos ONE, Vol 10, Iss 2, P E0117146 (2015) [serial online]. n.d.;(2):e0117146.
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